By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeff Janas and Westfields
CLIFTON, VA -- In the Mid-Atlantic region, there's little doubt that spirits of the past are neighbors of ours -- in one form or another. Without getting into belief systems, there are battlefields, stately Colonial mansions, shipwrecks, museums, parks, relics and cemeteries -- monuments to what happened here. There's a tangible connection to bygone years that few other places in the country share.
It's also well noted that many of the area's golf courses share in that heritage, either through name or occupation of historic property. The number of layouts with some sort of "history" is too many to name here.
|The elevated, undulating green on 13 will give you fits if you don't hit it close.|
But some even carry intangible connections with them. Westfields Golf Club in the upscale Clifton neighborhood of Northern Virginia is such a place. Westfields opened in October of 1998, a Fred Couples/Gene Bates signature course featuring the best in parkland style golf, with tree-lined fairways, elevation changes, panoramic views and exquisitely manicured playing surfaces.
It's also got some entities you probably won't get to see. Gene Bates, Fred Couples' design partner, explains: "One of things I found most fascinating when building Westfields was the land's history. There's an old Confederate fort to the right of the driving range area, which we subsequently donated to the county to serve as a park. The land also served as a field hospital during the Civil War. Locals say there've been a lot of ghost sightings around the fort. The land's being haunted because of the hospital and all the things that took place there."
Bates ought to know, having spent a significant amount of time in the neighborhood. Bates has earned the reputation of being a very hands-on course designer, and still makes frequent visits to recheck and tinker with the layout.
David Finocchiaro, Westfields' Head Golf Professional, didn't mention the "apparitions" on the property, but did discuss some of its other historic ties: "The thing most folks remember is the Civil War era cemetery on the right side of #13, but seeing as there was a fort here during the war, there're also extensive rifle pits and trenches found all over the place. A couple were even incorporated into the golf course design, on holes 10 and 18."
|The driving area is wider than it looks off the 6th tee, but you'd still better hit it straight.|
Both Bates and Finocchiaro said an archeological dig turned up a plethora of Civil War accoutrements, such as bullets, buttons and cannon balls. No bones, though. The men aren't there anymore, and their fort's remains are basically a series of earthen mounds, but they've left behind a legacy of physical reminders.
And although their ghosts might patrol the land, there's no getting away from the fact the golf course is 'hauntingly' well done. Bates said there are several things he really likes about Westfields: "I think the bunkering is outstanding. We hear from folks who've flown over the course heading into Dulles -- 'Oh, you're the course with the unique bunkers.' Fred and I wanted to depart from a neat, free flowing form of bunker style -- we wanted bunkers with a lot of peaks and capes and bays... almost like a potato chip style."
With as deep as some of those bunkers are, we're glad he didn't make it a rippled dip chip style.
Bates continues, "Then, we really tried to save as much of the tree cover as possible, without making the course too narrow or tight. We had semi-mature stands of woods to work with -- which in the densely populated northern Virginia, isn't easy to find (at least on a large tract of land). We knew there wouldn't be any houses around the site, so we had the luxury of keeping the trees, so we did."
It's one of the distinguishing characteristics of the property. You're not far from civilization, but you feel like you're in the Virginia forest. Finocchiaro expands on the notion: "I think the fact we have only one home directly next to the course makes it nice to be out there in the woodlands without a lot of outside disruptions. It's nice to not have to worry about hitting into someone's backyard or having a dog barking during your backswing or something like that."
So not only is there an absence of humanity surrounding the course (at least of the living variety), the tree buffers also give a sense of privacy you wouldn't necessarily expect from a site of this smallish size. Bates said after donating the fort parcel, allowing land for a maintenance facility and creating some distance from power lines on one side of the property that they were left with only about 150 acres to lay out the course. Westfields' golf course is a textbook exercise in spatial land management, because you only get the "parallel fairway"feeling on a couple holes.
And as noted before, it's not like it feels tight. "Fred and Gene did a great job making ours a friendly golf course. There's plenty of difficulty if you choose the right tee settings, but if you play the right tees, you're not going to get beat up too badly," Finocchiaro said.
|A big drive certainly doesn't guarantee par on the 8th hole.|
Bates says one reason why it's such a player-friendly layout is they didn't know what type of market it would serve when they first started: "We knew we wanted to build an upscale type course, but we didn't know if it was going to be a private club, a resort-type course or an upscale daily fee. So we kind of made it appealing to all those types of markets."
"Too many times these days, designers are making courses too difficult. For a resort course or a daily fee, we try to make it look difficult but play easier. You're going to want people to want to come back, and a lot of that will come from having an enjoyable golf experience," Bates said.
Another way to get folks to return is to kill 'em with kindness, and that's Finocchiaro's department: "We look at our golf course as providing a service, and we want our players to go away thinking 'what a fun golf course, what a fun day.' With all the events going on in the world, there are a lot of things more important than golf -- so when people come here, we're trying to help them get away from whatever it is that might be on their minds."
|The approach shot on nine calls for a carry over wetlands to a well-bunkered green.|
"It's a fun golf course, we have a friendly staff, and I want people thinking 'the guys know what they're doing out here. They provide a fun day for the golfers, and we'll come back.' If we accomplish that, we've done our job," he added.
Yes indeed. But the totality of the experience should be enough, which certainly includes the golf course itself. Number three is Westfields' signature hole (at least according to the yardage book). It's the hole you'll first see when driving on to the property, with beautiful rock outcroppings hugging the front of a large, L shaped green, protected by a pond in front. Tough hole, too, at 223 yards from the back tees.
Six and eight are probably the heart of the front nine -- two long and difficult par fours at 473 and 467 yards respectively. Finocchiaro says they're inspiring to look at, and difficult but fair to play. "From the tee, you'll see that there's a lot out there, but the challenge is right in front of you. They both require a good drive to get home, and second shots that require some thought. You need to think about the best side of the fairway to hit, then leave a good angle into the green."
On the backside, holes thirteen through eighteen will leave an indelible impression -- and might be what you remember most about Westfields. Thirteen and fourteen are short par fours -- and thirteen's noteworthy for the cemetery that comes into play on the right side off the tee (you get a free drop if you're in it). Fourteen's potentially drivable at 285 yards, but you'll need to shape it left to right in order to make the green.
|Westfields' signature 3rd hole.|
Fifteen's a beautiful par five, 554 yards and uphill. I wouldn't have thought it reachable, but Finocchiaro made it in two from the blue tees. Impressive hole.
Sixteen, seventeen and eighteen make up an excellent closing stretch. Sixteen is a short but challenging par four at 384 yards. The second shot's over a pond to a very shallow green, protected by a bunker in front and thick rough long. The green is extremely wide, so expect a long putt if you miss on the wrong side.
Seventeen's a wonderful short par three at 160 yards, with challenges in the water and sand variety. It's also pleasing to look at.
|It'll be hard to forget Westfields' 17th hole. Straight out of Fred Couples' imagination.|
Eighteen's the hardest par four on the backside. Long at 443 yards, and the second shot must carry wetlands to reach the putting surface. Nothing like a challenging forced carry for your last iron shot of the day. Couples certainly wants you to earn your par on the final hole.
Westfields is a true gem in Northern Virginia, and its interesting history and ghostly part-time inhabitants only make it more so. The conditioning of the course, the beauty of the clubhouse and the nature of the land combine for a great day of golf.
Almost a hauntingly good time.
Westfields Golf Club
13940 Balmoral Greens Avenue
Clifton, Virginia 20124
Course Designers: Fred Couples/Gene Bates
Head Golf Professional: David Finocchiaro
Mon-Thurs, $75; Fri-Sun: $95.
Twilight rates (after 3:00 p.m.):$50; Fri-Sun: $55. Replay rates: $39.
All rates include tax, greens fee, cart fee, and practice balls.
Westfields Golf Club is affiliated with the Marriott Westfields Resort & Conference Center. Phone: 1-703-818-0300; Fax: 1-703-818-3655
Reservations (from U.S. and Canada): 1-800-635-5666; Sales: 1-703-818-0400
Note: You can play Westfields on your home computer, too, as part of the Microsoft Links 2001 game.
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